Capella University has invested in competency-based learning throughout the university, including the School of Business and Technology. Dr. Shelley Robbins, Senior Chair of masters business programs, and Dr. Laura Sankovich, Academic Director of curriculum and programs, share more about the value of competency based education.

What is competency-based education (CBE)?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a competency is “a cluster of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) needed for effective job performance.” CBE focuses on acquiring and developing those skills and abilities. This is a different approach than a traditional program that focuses on credit hours. CBE puts the focus on measuring the educational impact on employment and professional fields.

“Traditionally, universities have not defined the expected abilities or outcomes developed by graduates, nor do they ensure abilities are learned, assessed, and acquired,” said Sankovich. But competency-based education’s focus on skills and abilities creates a different metric, one that’s easier to evaluate—and one that can immediately benefit employers.

Why is CBE relevant to employers?

“Employers want staff that can hit the ground running,” said Sankovich. “Before they start the hiring process, they create a description of what they want in terms of those knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) in an ideal candidate.”

Robbins agreed. “They want to hire people with competencies,” she said. “At Capella, all of our HR Management programs and courses have defined competencies. The students have dashboards and competency maps for each course. They can share those with potential employers to show them what competencies they’re developing.”

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In Capella’s MS in Human Resource Management program, there are HR challenge assignments that enable students to master a topic and apply that knowledge or skills to a real-world setting.

How does Capella deliver CBE?

“We break down each course into units that focus on specific skills or knowledge,” said Sankovich. “These units build relationships between the theoretical models in HR and business.” That allows students to take competencies and apply them to the workplace.

There’s another delivery mechanism through Capella, as Robbins pointed out. “All of Capella’s HR programs have the FlexPath option, where students can master competencies in their own timeframe. It’s a direct assessment approach that’s great for working professionals. We can help them acquire the competencies they seek for a new job, or to change jobs. Students who have already gained competencies through their work experience can use them to petition for credit through our Prior Learning Assessment process, and they can potentially get credit which could be applied to their degree.”

Robbins noted one key way to demonstrate the competency-based aspects of the degree: Students who have already passed professional HR exams like those offered by the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) can apply those exams to up to 20 credits of coursework at Capella. “Our curricula aligns with SHRM,” said Robbins.

What competencies are taught in HR programs at Capella? What workplace-ready skills will students gain?

“We teach our students about the theories behind good HR practices,” Sankovich said, “but then they get to experience hands-on training through Capella’s CapraTek simulations in their HR courses. In these simulations, they use what they’ve learned to do various HR functions as if they were in the workplace already.”

Students acquire knowledge in several key HR roles such as:

  • Benefits and compensation
  • Training and development
  • Recruitment and staffing
  • Employment law

Going forward, the Capella’s master’s in HR management will have a new internship course for students who don’t have hands-on experience in the field, allowing them to gain that experience before graduating.

Robbins noted, “One example of how Capella University uses competencies to build relevant workplace skills is in a graduate course in recruiting and talent management. One of the course competencies is ‘Develop strategic recruiting approaches and selection methods to support an organization’s talent goals.’

“One of the assignments is to assess an organization’s needs for recruiting for a senior leader in a division of an organization that has high turnover. As part of that assignment, students craft a memo to senior leaders incorporating the methods for effective recruiting, along with their recommendations for the organization. This applied, competency-based approach supports real workplace skills which can be shown to current or potential employers. Demonstrating competencies in the classroom has a direct impact on demonstrating them in the workplace.”

Capella offers the following human resources degree programs:

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for accuracy.

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